Taiwan attended a World Health Assembly (WHA) session as an observer for the first time in Geneva Monday after 12 failed attempts in more than a decade.
Yeh Ching-chuan, the island's health chief, led a 15-member delegation comprising health officials and experts to the five-day meeting of the World Health Organization's (WHO) top decision-making body that started Monday, Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) reported.
It was also the first time in 38 years that Taiwan has participated in a meeting hosted by a UN agency since the island lost its UN membership in 1971.
Philip K. T. Chou, general counsel of the Taipei county government who was attending a cross-Straits exchange forum in Fuzhou Monday, called the event "great news".
"This is not only good for the Taiwan people but also for people across the Straits," he said.
Yeh was quoted by CNA as saying that he expects a "good and friendly exchange" with Minister of Health Chen Zhu, in what will be a historic meeting of the two sides on such a platform. The first day of the meeting focused on the prevention and control of H1N1 flu.
Liou Song-siang, a senior official of the People First Party in Taiwan, said it was not easy for Taiwan to "finally have a chance" to attend the WHA event .
"Taiwan has been hoping for this day for so many years," he said.
The island started its bid to join the WHO in 1997, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) tried to apply for membership as "the Republic of China" every year after it took power in 2000.
The move aimed to create "two Chinas" and of course would never be tolerated, said Wu Nengyuan, director of the Fujian-based Institute of Taiwan Studies.
But since last year, when the Kuomintang Party won the leadership election, it started to revise policies to ease tensions across the Taiwan Straits.
Direct flights, shipping and postal services have been launched, and Taiwan has opened it tourism and investment markets to the mainland.
When Taiwan applied in April to attend the WHA under the name "Chinese Taipei", the mainland helped the island in the application process, Wu said.
But Wu stressed that it is too early to resolve all issues regarding Taiwan's participation in international forums.
"The two sides could find proper ways for Taiwan to attend events which involve issues concerning people's livelihood," he said.
The DPP Monday strongly opposed Taiwan's presence at the WHA meeting under the name of "Chinese Taipei", saying it would "dwarf Taiwan's sovereignty" and urged people to protest.
However, an opinion poll conducted by the island's health authority last month showed 90 percent of respondents support Taiwan's participation in the WHA under the name of "Chinese Taipei".
In another poll whose results were released Monday, a record number of Taiwan people believe the mainland is friendly toward the island.
Nearly 57 percent of the 1,007 people questioned in a China Times poll last week said the mainland was friendly toward Taiwan - the highest number recorded by the daily.
The poll was released as the pro-independence DPP Monday continued a sit-in protest against Ma's mainland policies. The DPP said 600,000 people marched in the streets of Taipei on Sunday but authorities put the turnout at less than 80,000.
The 11th Cross-Straits Fair for Economy and Trade started in Fuzhou Monday, as a part of the first cross-Straits forum. It attracted more than 250 companies from 23 counties and cities from Taiwan. Leading Taiwanese products including snacks, handicrafts and electronic products attracted thousands of mainland customers, and deals for 38 investment projects worth $270 million were signed.